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JOHN PAUL II

APOSTOLIC CONSTITUTION FOR THE PROMULGATION OF THE NEW CODE OF CANON LAW
Sacrae Disciplinae Leges
TO THE REVERED BROTHERS, CARDINALS, ARCHBISHOPS, BISHOPS, PRIESTS, DEACONS, AND
TO THE OTHER MEMBERS OF THE PEOPLE OF GOD, JOHN PAUL, BISHOP SERVANT OF THE SERV
ANTS OF GOD AS A PERPETUAL RECORD
During the course of the centuries, the Catholic Church has been accustomed
to reform and renew the laws of canonical discipline so that, in constant fideli
ty to her divine Founder, they may be better adapted to the saving mission entru
sted to her. Prompted by this same purpose and fulfilling at last the expectatio
ns of the whole Catholic world, I order today, January 25, 1983, the promulgatio
n of the revised Code of Canon Law. In so doing, my thoughts go back to the same
day of the year 1959, when my Predecessor of happy memory, John XXIII, announce
d for the first time his decision to reform the existing corpus of canonical leg
islation which had been promulgate on the feast of Pentecost in the year 1917.
Such a decision to reform the Code was taken together with two other decisio
ns of which the Pontiff spoke on that same day, and they concerned the intention
to hold a Synod of the Diocese of Rome and to convoke the Ecumenical Council. O
f these two events, the first was not closely connected with the reform of the C
ode, but the second, that is, the Council, is of supreme importance in regard to
the present matter and is closely connected with it.
If we ask ourselves why John XXIII considered it necessary to reform the exi
sting Code, the answer can perhaps be found in the Code itself which was promulg
ated in the year 1917. But there exists also another answer and that is the deci
sive one, namely, that the reform of the Code of Canon Law appeared to be defini
tely desired and requested by the same Council which devoted such great attentio
n to the Church.
As is obvious, when the revision of the Code was first announced, the Counci
l was an event of the future. Moreover, the acts of its magisterium and especial
ly its doctrine on the Church would be decided in the years 1962-1965; however,
it is clear to everyone that John XXIII's intuition was very true, and with good
reason it must be said that his decision was for the good of the Church in the
long term.
Therefore, the new Code, which is promulgated today, necessarily required th
e previous work of the Council; and although it was announced together with the
Ecumenical Council, nevertheless it follows it chronologically, because the work
undertaken in its preparation, since it had to be based upon the Council, could
not begin until after completion of the latter.
Turning our mind today to the beginning of this long journey, that is, to th
at January 25, 1959, and to John XXIII himself who initiated the revision of the
Code, I must recognize that this Code derives from one and the same intention,
which is that of the renewal of the Christian life. From such an intention, in f
act, the entire work of the Council drew its norms and its direction.
If we now pass on to consider the nature of the work which preceded the prom
ulgation of the Code, and also the manner in which it was carried out, especiall
y during the Pontificates of Paul VI and of John Paul I, and from then until the
present day, it must be clearly pointed out that this work was brought to compl
etion in an outstandingly collegial spirit; and this not only in regard to the m
aterial drafting of the work, but also as regards the very substance of the laws
enacted.
This note of collegiality, which eminently characterizes and distinguishes t
he process of origin of the present Code, corresponds perfectly with the teachin
g and the character of the Second Vatican Council. Therefore the Code, not only
because of its content but also because of its very origin, manifests the spirit
of this Council, in the documents of which the Church, the universal "sacrament
of salvation" (cf. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen gentium, nos. 1,

9, 48), is presented as the People of God and its hierarchical constitution appe
ars based on the College of Bishops united with its Head.
For this reason, therefore, the bishops and the episcopates were invited to
collaborate in the preparation of the new Code, so that by means of such a long
process, by a method as far as possible collegial, there should gradually mature
the juridical formulas which would later serve for the use of the entire Church
. In all these phases of the work there also took part experts, namely, speciali
sts in theology, history, and especially in canon law, who were chosen from all
over the world.
To one and all of them I wish to express today my sentiments of deep gratitu
de.
In the first place there come before my eyes the figures of the deceased Car
dinals who presided over the preparatory commission: Cardinal Pietro Ciriaci who
began the work, and Cardinal Pericle Felici who, for many years, guided the cou
rse of the work almost to its end. I think then of the secretaries of the same c
ommission: Very Rev. Mons. Giacomo Violardo, later Cardinal, and Father Raimondo
Bigador, S.J., both of whom in carrying out this task poured out the treasures
of their doctrine and wisdom. Together with them I recall the Cardinals, the arc
hbishops, the bishops and all those who were members of that commission, as well
as the consultors of the individual study groups engaged during these years in
such a difficult work, and whom God in the meantime has called to their eternal
reward. I pray to God for all of them.
I am pleased to remember also the living, beginning with the present Pro-Pre
sident of the commission, the revered brother, Most Rev. Rosalio Castillo Lara,
who for a very long time has done excellent work in a task of such great respons
ibility, to pass then to our beloved son, Mons. Willy Onclin, whose devotion and
diligence have greatly contributed to the happy outcome of the work, and finall
y to all the others in the commission itself, whether as Cardinal members or as
officials, consultors and collaborators in the various study groups, or in other
offices, who have given their appreciated contribution to the drafting and the
completion of such a weighty and complex work.
Therefore, in promulgating the Code today, I am fully aware that this act is
an expression of pontifical authority and, therefore, it is invested with a "pr
imatial" character. But I am also aware that this Code in its objective content
reflects the collegial care of all my brothers in the episcopate for the Church.
Indeed, by a certain analogy with the Council, it should be considered as the f
ruit of a collegial collaboration because of the united efforts on the part of s
pecialized persons and institutions throughout the whole Church.
A second question arises concerning the very nature of the Code of Canon Law
. To reply adequately to this question, one must mentally recall the distant pat
rimony of law contained in the books of the Old and New Testament from which is
derived, as from its first source, the whole juridical-legislative tradition of
the Church.
Christ the Lord, indeed, did not in the least wish to destroy the very rich
heritage of the Law and of the Prophets which was gradually formed from the hist
ory and experience of the People of God in the Old Testament, but He brought it
to completion (cf. Mt. 5:17), in such wise that in a new and higher way it becam
e part of the heritage of the New Testament. Therefore, although St. Paul, in ex
pounding the Paschal Mystery, teaches that justification is not obtained by the
works of the Law, but by means of faith (cf. Rom. 3:28; Gal. 2:16), he does not
thereby exclude the binding force of the Decalogue (cf. Rom. 13:28; Gal. 5:13-25
; 6:2), nor does he deny the importance of discipline in the Church of God (cf.
1 Cor. chapters 5, 6). Thus the writings of the New Testament enable us to under
stand still more the importance itself of discipline and make us see better how
it is more closely connected with the saving character of the evangelical messag
e itself.
This being so, it appears sufficiently clear that the Code is in no way inte
nded as a substitute for faith, grace and the charisms in the life of the Church
and of the faithful. On the contrary, its purpose is rather to create such an o
rder in the ecclesial society that, while assigning the primacy to faith, grace

and the charisms, it at the same time renders easier their organic development i
n the life both of the ecclesial society and of the individual persons who belon
g to it.
The Code, as the principal legislative document of the Church, founded on th
e juridical-legislative heritage of Revelation and Tradition, is to be regarded
as an indispensable instrument to ensure order both in individual and social lif
e, and also in the Church's activity itself. Therefore, besides containing the f
undamental elements of the hierarchical and organic structure of the Church as w
illed by her divine Founder, or as based upon apostolic, or in any case most anc
ient, tradition, and besides the fundamental principles which govern the exercis
e of the threefold office entrusted to the Church itself, the Code must also lay
down certain rules and norms of behavior.
The instrument, which the Code is, fully corresponds to the nature of the Ch
urch, especially as it is proposed by the teaching of the Second Vatican Council
in general, and in a particular way by its ecclesiological teaching. Indeed, in
a certain sense, this new Code could be understood as a great effort to transla
te this same doctrine, that is, the conciliar ecclesiology, into canonical langu
age. If, however, it is impossible to translate perfectly into canonical languag
e the conciliar image of the Church, nevertheless, in this image there should al
ways be found as far as possible its essential point of reference.
From this there are derived certain fundamental criteria which should govern
the entire new Code, both in the sphere of its specific matter and also in the
language connected with it. It could indeed be said that from this there is deri
ved that character of complementarily which the Code presents in relation to the
teaching of the Second Vatican Council, with particular reference to the two co
nstitutions, the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium and the Pastoral Constituti
on Gaudium et spes.
Hence it follows that what constitutes the substantial "novelty" of the Seco
nd Vatican Council, in line with the legislative tradition of the Church, especi
ally in regard to ecclesiology, constitutes likewise the "novelty" of the new Co
de.
Among the elements which characterize the true and genuine image of the Chur
ch, we should emphasize especially the following: the doctrine in which the Chur
ch is presented as the People of God (cf. Lumen gentium, no. 2), and authority a
s a service (cf. ibid., no. 3); the doctrine in which the Church is seen as a "c
ommunion," and which, therefore, determines the relations which should exist bet
ween the particular Churches and the universal Church, and between collegiality
and the primacy; the doctrine, moreover, according to which all the members of t
he People of God, in the way suited to each of them, participate in the threefol
d office of Christ: priestly, prophetic and kingly. With this teaching there is
also linked that which concerns the duties and rights of the faithful, and parti
cularly of the laity; and finally, the Church's commitment to ecumenism.
If, therefore, the Second Vatican Council has drawn from the treasury of Tra
dition elements both old and new, and the new consists precisely in the elements
which we have enumerated, then it is clear that the Code also should reflect th
e same note of fidelity in newness and of newness in fidelity, and conform itsel
f to that in its own field and in its particular way of expressing itself.
The new Code of Canon Law appears at a moment when the bishops of the whole
Church not only ask for its promulgation, but are crying out for it insistently
and almost with impatience.
In actual fact the Code of Canon Law is extremely necessary for the Church.
Since, indeed, it is organized as a social and visible structure, it must also h
ave norms: in order that its hierarchical and organic structure be visible; in o
rder that the exercise of the functions divinely entrusted to her, especially th
at of sacred power and of the administration of the sacraments, may be adequatel
y organized; in order that the mutual relations of the faithful may be regulated
according to justice based upon charity, with the rights of individuals guarant
eed and well defined; in order, finally, that common initiatives, undertaken for
a Christian life ever more perfect may be sustained, strengthened and fostered
by canonical norms.

Finally, the canonical laws by their very nature must be observed. The great
est care has therefore been taken to ensure that in the lengthy preparation of t
he Code the wording of the norms should be accurate, and that they should be bas
ed on a solid juridical, canonical and theological foundation.
After all these considerations it is to be hoped that the new canonical legi
slation will prove to be an efficacious means in order that the Church may progr
ess in conformity with the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, and may every d
ay be ever more suited to carry out its office of salvation in this world.
I am pleased to entrust to all with a confident spirit these considerations
of mine in the moment in which I promulgate this fundamental body of ecclesiasti
cal laws for the Latin Church.
May God grant that joy and peace with justice and obedience obtain favor for
this Code, and that what has been ordered by the Head be observed by the member
s.
Trusting therefore in the help of divine grace, sustained by the authority o
f the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, with certain knowledge, and in response to t
he wishes of the bishops of the whole world who have collaborated with me in a c
ollegial spirit; with the supreme authority with which I am vested, by means of
this Constitution, to be valid forever in the future, I promulgate the present C
ode as it has been set in order and revised. I command that for the future it is
to have the force of law for the whole Latin Church, and I entrust it to the wa
tchful care of all those concerned, in order that it may be observed.
So that all may more easily be informed and have a thorough knowledge of the
se norms before they have juridical binding force, I declare and order that they
will have the force of law beginning from the first day of Advent of this year,
1983.
And this notwithstanding any contrary ordinances, constitutions, privileges
(even worthy of special or individual mention) or customs.
I therefore exhort all the faithful to observe the proposed legislation with
a sincere spirit and good will in the hope that there may flower again in the C
hurch a renewed discipline; and that consequently the salvation of souls may be
rendered ever easier under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of
the Church.
Given at Rome, from the Apostolic Palace, January 25, 1983, the fifth year o
f our Pontificate.